All roads lead to Cheltenham and the Festival next March as the jumps season begins in earnest at the weekend with the first fixture of the season at the headquarters of National Hunt racing.
There are significant and lucrative meetings at Aintree and Punchestown in April but most of the major championship races of the season take place at Cheltenham in the previous month. The whole season is geared towards those four days in Gloucestershire and already five months before the meeting ante post markets are attracting plenty of interest.
Sadly Synchronised will not be able to defend his chasing title in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Blue Riband of jumps racing. That horse was a gallant winner of the race last season but then lost his life in the Grand National the following month.
Obviously it is not acceptable for horses to be fatally injured in the name of sport. But the inherent danger is an intrinsic part of National Hunt racing and the National in particular. This is the most high profile race of the season and it is unfortunate that there have been several fatalities in recent years.
The course is being continually modified to reduce the risk and appease animal rights groups. However, the National is a unique race and with more changes may soon become no more than a conventional handicap chase.
Becher’s Brook in particular has been criticised as being an unfair test and the statistics indicate it is a dangerous obstacle. The fence has been modified again ahead of this season’s race and it is hoped there are no more fatal accidents next April.
In the absence of Synchronised in theory The Giant Bolster is the best chaser in the country after finishing second in the Gold Cup. Even at a relatively young age Long Run’s career appears to be on a decline and the most likely winner of this season’s race will be one of the top novices from last year.
Sir Des Champs is the ante post favourite in what looks to be a very competitive renewal. For the first time in seven years Kauto Star will not contest the race. Connections are still undecided about running the horse in the King George on Boxing Day but the animal owes its owner and trainer nothing and retirement appears to be the best course of action.
Sir Des Champs won the Jewson Novices Chase at last season’s Cheltenham Festival. The horse maintained his unbeaten record in impressive style. The six year old put in a faultless round of jumping to become established as the new favourite for the 2013 Gold Cup.
Hunt Ball was a fascinating horse last season. The animal made remarkable strides up the handicap ratings and won seven races in its first eight starts. The horse was bought for next to nothing and is owned by a dairy farmer who gets up at 3am every morning to tend to his cows.
Hunt Ball ran at Aintree after winning at the Cheltenham Festival. He finished third in a Grade One chase and became a lively outsider for this season’s Gold Cup. The owner believes the horse will appreciate the Gold Cup distance next year. It has already been backed from 50/1 to half that price and is a genuine contender in a race without a clear favourite.
Back next Friday.
Ace Betting Club